THIS WEEK: For the first time in three weeks the Rice Soccer team is back home for Conference USA league matches. The Owls host Old Dominion at 7 pm on Oct. 21, followed by Charlotte on Oct. 23 at 1 pm. In the below video head coach Nicky Adams previews the upcoming C-USA games and the different events surrounding the busy soccer weekend.
ON GAMEDAY: There's a lot happening this weekend. Friday's game is the annual Senior Recognition Night. Our five awesome, super, fantastic seniors and their families will be introduced before the start of the Old Dominion match. That same night is also the annual Rice Soccer Alumnae Night where a host of former players return to Holloway Field. Those special Owls will be re-introduced at halftime of the match.
Sunday is of course our usual Owls Kids Club Day where registered youngsters can enjoy FREE tickets to this match. The Rice soccer program is also hosting a Club Team Day for the showdown vs. Charlotte, where all local club teams can get a great group discount. Finally, as Sunday is the last home match closest to Oct. 31, fans are encouraged to wear their Halloween costume* and receive a reserved seat for the price of a general admission seat. (*NOTE -- This Halloween promotion excludes all Baker 13 costumes!!) Call the Rice Ticket Office at (713) 348-OWLS for details on soccer ticket prices.
QUICK ON THE OWLS: The 2016 Rice soccer team (8-4-1 overall, 5-2-0 in conference) heads into the weekend tied for fourth in C-USA standings. The Owls return seven of 11 starters from last season's squad that went 10-7-2 and qualified for the conference tournament. A total of 19 letterwinners return from a year ago and seven newcomers have already made a major impact on the season.
COACH'S CORNER: Rice soccer is under the direction of head coach Nicky Adams, who is now in her sixth full year at the helm of the program. Adams enters the weekend with a career record of 66-41-20. A former pro player and All-America honoree while playing at Texas A&M, Adams was inducted into her alma mater's Athletics Hall of Fame last fall. Adams' coaching staff includes Courtney Sirmans in her second year with the program, and Brenton Saylor in his first year with the Owls.
PRESEASON HONORS: IRVING, Texas - Led by senior Jasmine Isokpunwu as a preseason co-defensive Conference USA player of the year, and with a league-high three preseason selections overall, the Rice soccer team was picked second in the 2016 C-USA head coaches' poll announced on Aug. 2. Owls Jenny Fichera and Samantha Chaiken joined Isokpunwu on the 2016 preseason all-conference team. The preseason all-conference honors and ranking were determined on a vote of the 14 C-USA head soccer coaches. It is the third time in the last four years for Rice to be picked as high as second by the annual poll. Defending regular season and tournament champion North Texas was picked first in the poll, while Florida Atlantic was third and Marshall fourth. The Owls had the most individual preseason honorees (3) among the C-USA schools. A year ago Isokpunwu earned third team all-Central Region honors after starting every game for the Owls on defense. The Austin, Texas, native rarely came off the field for a team-high total of 1,754 minutes, or 98.7 percent of the of the team's total playing time. Fellow senior defender Jenny Fichera was second on the team in total minutes (1,732), and the backline duo helped Rice finished fourth in the conference for the fewest shots-allowed per game (12.2). Junior midfielder Samantha Chaiken battled through some nagging injuries last season to score a pair of game-winning goals while maintaining a steady .417 shots-on-goal percentage.
LAST WEEKEND: -- No doubt about it, last weekend was big as Rice soccer won its fourth-straight match. Junior forward Nia Stallings scored the match-winner with less than five minutes left in regulation to help lift the visiting Owls to a 2-1 Conference USA road victory over Middle Tennessee Oct. 14 in Murfreesboro, Tenn.... "This is a great win," said Rice head soccer coach Nicky Adams. "It was another conference road match. They are always a challenge, and this was in fact our third (C-USA road game) in a row. We have been able to win each one. They have all been big, and I'm very pleased at how the team has responded when we all knew this was going to be a challenging part in our schedule... Rice was on the offensive early. In the 19th minute senior Jenny Fichera served a pass from the right side over to sophomore Darcy Mickalow. Mickalow volleyed a shot attempt to the back of the opposing net for a 1-0 advantage. The Owls would have loved to have been able to hold Middle Tennessee scoreless at the intermission, but in front of their home fans the Blue Raiders were able to find the equalizer in the 39th minute. MT's Kerri Cook tallied her fourth goal of the season made it 1-1. Rice turned up the offensive pressure in the second period to the tune of a 12-0 advantage in shots and a 7-0 margin corner kicks, but didn't have anything to show for the effort on the scoreboard. Finally, in the 86th minute sophomore Annie Walker blasted away on a shot attempt that Middle Tennessee saved, but was not able to control. Stallings alertly followed-up the deflection with a shot and goal of her own for her fourth score of the season... "Nia was great again," coach Adams said. "She's playing so well and helping us win. Annie Walker may have played her best match of the season tonight. She played hard, but she also played smart and that really started things for us again and again during the match... "The offense did such a good job of working to get forward," Adams explained. "That gave us so many chances. We didn't always finish our chances tonight like we would have liked, and we were called offside a couple of times, but the team deserved to win for how well they played and how hard they worked heading into this match."... The Owls' soccer team has passed a series of tests, but at a place like Rice challenging tests are the norm. Next weekend it could be more of the same soccer mid-terms. The Blue & Gray are back home, finally, to host Old Dominion and Charlotte teams that have winning ways of their own. Coach Adams knows full-well what it takes to stay at the head of the class... "Tonight we played with urgency and intensity, and we need to keep that up," Adams said. "We have a lot of important soccer left, including two games at home, so there is a lot to play for."
HAIL SENIORS: The Rice senior fab-five of Jenny Fichera, Jasmine Isokpunwu, Madeleine Lundberg, Mia Schmolze and Ruth Seleznick are making their final regular season appearance at Holloway Field this weekend. The group will be honored before the start of Friday's match vs. Old Dominion.
THE RICE -- OLD DOMINION SERIES: Rice leads the series with Old Dominion 3-0-0 dating back to 2013. Two of the Rice wins, in 2013 and 2014 have been at Holloway Field. The Owls' 2-0 win over the Monarchs last season was at ODU's home field in Norfolk, Va.
THE RICE -- CHARLOTTE SERIES: Rice leads the series with Charlotte 2-0-0. The first meeting was in Houston in 2014 with the most-recent clash being last season in North Carolina.
LOW SHOTS: The Rice backline has allowed an average of just 11.4 shots per game this season. The mark is the program's best average for fewest shots allowed in five years, and a dramatic improvement from the 17.2 shots per game the team allowed as recently as 2013. In 2003 Rice held opponents to just 9.4 shots per game, the fewest by an Owl team in school history.
GO `FICH': Senior defender Jenny Fichera enters Friday's match with a streak of starting every match in her collegiate career, now 71-straight games dating back to her freshman season of 2013. The native of Ann Arbor, Michigan, needs to start three more matches to tie for tenth on Rice's all-time list for most games started. A defender by trade, Fichera also has two goals and five assists. Her 17 career assists is the fifth-highest individual total in school history.
TIP TOP TOPOLSKI: When sophomore forward Marissa Topolski attempted nine shots at UTSA on Oct. 7, it was the highest individual game total by an Owl this season and most since current pro player Lauren Hughes took nine shots in a win at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in 2015. In the last three games Topolski ihas climbed to fourth on the team with 24 shots.